Only 1% of the plastic waste in the world’s oceans is immediately visible.
It is an environmental dangers posed by often-invisible microplastics because the vast majority of the plastic waste in the seas is suspended in the water or lies on the seabed.
Microplastics come from a variety of sources, such as clothes being washed, packaging waste, industrial output and disintegrating fishing nets.
Build-ups of plastic were focused in certain areas, such as deep-sea, remote regions, where they can be carried by sediment avalanches and ocean currents , we are warned this could lead to particularly damaging impacts as such areas are generally very biodiverse.
“The problem of plastics is that they last for a very long time so the rate of degradation is very slow and if we keep producing at this rate they will keep accumulating in the oceans.”
The $1 billion solar plant could be the ‘eighth-largest solar power facility in the world’ when finished and is expected to generate enough electricity to power 260,000 homes in Las Vegas
The US Government has approved the construction and the operation of the ‘largest solar project in US history’.
The estimated $1 billion (£810m) Gemini Solar Project could be the ‘eighth-largest solar power facility in the world’ when finished and is expected to generate enough electricity to power 260,000 homes in Las Vegas and potentially help supply energy markets in Southern California.
The 690MW photovoltaic solar facility is estimated to generate enough renewable electricity to annually offset the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of about 83,000 cars, the equivalent of 384,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide.
It says the new plant, which will support up to 1,100 jobs in the local community and create $3 million (£2.4m) in annual revenue, is scheduled to be constructed in two phases – the first could come online in 2021, with the final completion being scheduled for 2022.
Abigail Ross Hopper, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said: “Despite the challenges of the coronavirus, we’re pleased to see that Nevada will soon be home to one of the biggest solar projects in the world.”
Casey Hammond, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Exercising the Authority of the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, commented: “This action is about getting Americans back to work, strengthening communities and promoting investment in American energy.”
Green hydrogen produced using renewable energy is increasingly seen as a key asset for grid and transport decarbonization.
Interest in the technology is surging. Shell believes the hydrogen sector deserves the same levels of support that went to solar energy over the years.
But at least in the medium term, the decarbonization potential of hydrogen is limited. In some areas, it’s “just not economical, and it won’t be,” said Wood Mackenzie senior analyst Ben Gallagher.
Green hydrogen remains inefficient and expensive today, with an end-to-end efficiency of only around 30 percent, said Gallagher.
As a result, it’s hard to see it being used for electricity generation in markets such as the U.S., where natural gas prices are expected to remain low for the foreseeable future.
Similar challenges could hamper attempts to make hydrogen a viable alternative to electrification in the automotive sector.
“On the mobility side, you not only have the electrolyzer, you have a large distribution network that you need to build out,” said Gallagher. “Compared to either EVs or gasoline, I don’t understand how it’s going to be cost-competitive in any way, anytime soon.”
Not much “green” today
Gallagher’s views echo the findings of a major report on green hydrogen published by the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) in September, which warned that the fuel “should not be considered a panacea.”
“A hydrogen-based energy transition will not happen overnight,” Irena’s report states. “Hydrogen will likely trail other strategies such as electrification of end-use sectors, and its use will target specific applications. The need for a dedicated new supply infrastructure may limit hydrogen use.”
Despite the challenges, many are bullish on green hydrogen’s growth prospects.
In research published last month, Wood Mackenzie said more than 3.2 gigawatts of green hydrogen electrolyzer capacity might be deployed between now and 2025, a 1,272 percent increase on the 253 megawatts installed from 2000 to the end of 2019.
“The large increase in the 2019-2025 period is partially due to the nascency of the market,” Gallagher said. “But aggressive targets in East Asia and increased interest from major international stakeholders will drive deployment in the near term.”
Green hydrogen is produced when renewable power is used in the electrolysis process. The resulting hydrogen can be used later to return electricity to the grid via a fuel cell.
At present, around 99 percent of the roughly 130 million tons of hydrogen a year used for industrial processes — mostly oil refining and ammonia production — is made using coal or lignite gasification processes, or steam methane reformation.
The hydrogen industry is looking to move away from these carbon-intensive production methods, either by pairing steam methane reformation with carbon capture and storage or by using renewable energy to power water electrolysis.
Neither option is cheap, though. And the first one, which yields what’s called “blue” hydrogen, is not inherently carbon-free, Irena noted.
“Development of blue hydrogen as a transition solution also faces challenges in terms of production upscaling and supply logistics,” said the agency.
On the other hand, the cost of green hydrogen looks set to fall as electrolyzer production ramps up and renewable energies get cheaper.
As a result of these changing dynamics, Wood Mackenzie expects green hydrogen production to be competitive with gasification and steam methane reformation by 2030 in Australia, Germany and Japan.
Playing the heating card
Given that current production methods account for around 2.5 percent of all global carbon emissions, once renewable-energy-based electrolysis becomes competitive, “[green] hydrogen will be used to replace [other forms of] hydrogen,” said Gallagher.
Beyond that, green hydrogen’s fortunes will likely be tied to how efficient its production and usage can become.
Neil Crumpton, a U.K. energy consultant and former chair of the green hydrogen advocacy group called Planet Hydrogen, said next-generation electrolyzers might be able to achieve a near 80 percent conversion efficiency.
This could bring up green hydrogen’s round-trip efficiency for electricity production to between 45 percent and 50 percent depending on the type of fuel cell, turbine or gas engine used to deliver power to the grid.
The efficiency could be higher if hydrogen were used for heating instead of electricity production. “All the thermal energy could be available for heating,” said Crumpton. “The electrolyzer’s reject heat could also be utilized to heat buildings.”
The wide range of possible uses for green hydrogen means that efficient and cost-effective production could be a boon for countries where high levels of renewable energy generation are already leading to significant amounts of curtailment.
Hydrogen can be transported by ship, so it could release “otherwise stranded renewable energy resources” in places such as Australia, said Crumpton. “In a well-designed system with timely deployment of transmission lines, there would be zero curtailment necessary,” he said.
“All the electricity generated would either meet consumer demand [or be sent] to electrolyzers.”
This is a vision that has seduced countries such as China and Germany, along with companies the size of Shell and BP.
But it’s a vision that is still some way off.
Scale rivaling utility players. Power shutoffs. And a whole lot of batteries. Here are the latest trends in the U.S. home solar market.
Fall earnings season brought a barrage of new data on the performance of rooftop solar installers, since all the large national players are publicly traded.
For one thing, the national residential solar company is very much alive, contrary to fears of years past that these companies couldn’t survive and arguments that solar is an inherently local business. Current market is looking at double-digit percentage growth in deployments compared to last year.
Meanwhile, a series of wildfires and wildfire-related grid outages in California, solar’s largest market, made the combination of home solar-plus-batteries look more important than ever.
Rooftop solar deployments now rival massive utility-scale plants
By definition, residential solar is small and utility-scale is very large. But recently, the annual output of the most prolific rooftop solar installers is starting to rival utility-scale plants.
Sunrun leads the pack; it is on track to install more than 400 megawatts this year through its in-house crews and installer partners. That puts it on par with, for instance, the 400-megawatt Eland project 8minute Solar Energy is developing for the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power. That project’s scale helped it nab the lowest price for combined solar-storage in the country.
But Eland got final approval this fall and will take three to four years to fully complete. Rooftop solar costs more than massive plants in the desert, but it can move much more quickly through the contracting and installation processes. The actions of the biggest installers are validating the argument that small-scale solar can add up to big capacity, a key test as California in January begins implementation of its mandate that all new homes install solar.
And Sunrun’s annual installations keep growing, expected to rise about 10 percent this year; the company reported that labor constraints will prevent a higher rate of deployment, but sales track with 15 percent growth year-over-year.
The problem, as far as rapid grid decarbonization is concerned, is that there’s only one Sunrun. Runner-up Vivint installed about two-thirds of what Sunrun did last quarter, 65 megawatts. No. 3 installer Tesla did even less, 43 megawatts, and that was a surprise improvement from the previous quarter’s paltry 29 megawatts.
It’s clear that national rooftop installers can contribute serious scale. The next question is whether there’s a market for several companies pumping out a decentralized 400-megawatt power plant every year. Will residential leaders eventually dwarf even that level of achievement?
Give me a P, give me an S…
About 150,000 Californians braced for another round of preemptive power shutoffs Wednesday, as utility Pacific Gas & Electric warned of exceedingly dry and windy conditions in 18 counties.
The threat of days without power has become business as usual in particular parts of the state this fall, with PG&E initiating rounds of blackouts to deter wildfires (it’s unclear whether it’s worked; the state is still investigating the cause of Sonoma’s Kincade fire, but the utility reported a malfunction in the area).
The situation has created dangerous conditions for vulnerable residents, riled up policymakers and caused a headache for PG&E. But home solar-and-storage companies say they’re seeing the upside.
Vivint Solar CEO David Bywater said in November that the shutoffs provided a “reset” in California, offering the company a renewed entrance into a market where lots of early adopters have already gone solar.
Residential solar executives including Sunnova’s John Berger and SunPower’s Tom Werner have also noted increased interest coming from customers in the state, though they’ve so far demurred on offering specific figures on any increase in sales.
SunPower cited residential storage attach rates averaging 20+ percent in Q3 — fortuitously, it unveiled its in-house residential storage product in September — but said that percentage is higher in California. Sunnova reported Q3 battery attachment rates at 15 percent, up from 11 percent in Q2, citing a “large growth opportunity surrounding storage.”
“With the devastation in California caused by wildfires and the resulting blackouts and deliberate power shutdowns across the state, it is clear we are witnessing a critical moment across the energy landscape,” said Berger. “As a result, we are seeing stronger demand for our storage products as customers look for alternatives that provide energy resiliency and reliability in the face of the effects of climate change.”
In a particularly stark snapshot of changing customer attitudes, Sunrun CEO Lynn Jurich told GTM that the percentage of Bay Area customers choosing storage alongside solar doubled in October, from 30 percent to 60 percent. That was the month PG&E initiated its biggest power shutoffs so far. Sunrun’s rate of storage adoption was 30 percent for California overall in the third quarter.
The demand for backup power is also compelling companies to shift their offerings. Vivint, a bit of a laggard in the residential storage space, expanded its financing options in California to include storage in solar power-purchase agreements (more on that below). And in September, Sunnova added a 10-year finance agreement to its existing stable of options, which includes leases and loans.
Vivint is behind on storage, but doesn’t seem to care
Vivint doesn’t seem to be in a hurry when it comes to solar-plus-storage.
The No. 2 rooftop solar installer initially staked its storage success on a partnership with Mercedes-Benz Energy back in 2017. What the latter lacked in market-ready products, it made up for with great brand recognition. A year later, the German carmaker gave up on residential storage, and Vivint never followed up with a similarly high-profile replacement (but it did start stocking LG Chem’s Resu battery).
That quiet touch is surprising, given that competitors Sunrun and Tesla talk up their energy storage achievements on each quarterly earnings call, and companies like SunPower increasingly frame the solar value proposition as inseparable from storage.
Vivint, instead, only sells solar-plus-storage in California and Hawaii, making it easily the most geographically limited of the major rooftop solar companies. And Vivint declined to launch a no-money-down offering in California, the largest market by far, until this month. It’s possible to convince customers to buy batteries outright, but no money down sweetens the deal by lowering upfront sticker price.
Leadership launched the service after conducting a survey of several hundred California homeowners in August, in which the company noted increasing interest in the product. That result shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to Vivint — for the last few months, the news has been awash with coverage of California’s fires and Pacific Gas & Electric’s deliberate grid outages.
Adding batteries gives solar installers a chance to upsell. In places where time-of-use rates hurt standalone solar returns, it may even be vital to the economics. Given the upside, it’s hard to see the strategic value of trailing the competition on this growing sector of the market.
Then again, home storage sales are small enough that Vivint hasn’t missed out on much in terms of revenue. It’s more the opportunity to get the hang of a product that will play an increasingly central role in the industry.
The International Energy Agency’s latest and most comprehensive assessment of clean energy transitions finds that the vast majority of technologies and sectors are failing to keep pace with long-term goals.
Of the 45 energy technologies and sectors assessed in the IEA’s latest Tracking Clean Energy Progress (TCEP), only 7 are on track with the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS). The SDS represents a pathway to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change, deliver universal energy access and significantly reduce air pollution.
These latest findings follow an IEA assessment published in March showing that energy-related CO2 emissions worldwide rose by 1.7% in 2018 to a historic high of 33 billion tonnes.
Some clean energy technologies showed major progress last year, according to the new TCEP analysis. Energy storage is now “on track” as new installations doubled, led by Korea, China, the United States and Germany. Electric vehicles had another record year, with global sales hitting 2 million in 2018. China accounted for more than half of total sales.
Solar PV remains on track with a 31% increase in generation – representing the largest absolute growth in generation among renewable sources. But annual capacity additions of solar PV and renewable power as a whole levelled off in 2018, raising concerns about meeting long-term climate goals.
This year’s analysis expands coverage to include flaring and methane emissions from oil and gas operations, which are responsible for around 7% of the energy sector’s greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Despite some positive developments over the past year, current technology deployment rates, policy ambition and industry efforts are still falling well short.
The buildings sector also remains off track, with emissions rising again in 2018 to an all-time high. This was the result of several factors, including extreme weather that raised energy demand for heating and cooling. Another concerning development was the slowdown in fuel economy improvements around the world as car buyers continued to purchase bigger vehicles.
Given the urgency and scale of actions needed for clean energy transitions around the world, this year’s TCEP features much greater emphasis on recommended actions for governments, industry and other key actors in the global energy system. The analysis also includes in-depth analysis on how to address more than 100 key innovation gaps across all sectors and technologies.
TCEP provides a comprehensive, rigorous and up-to-date expert analysis of clean energy transitions across a full range of technologies and sectors. It draws on the IEA’s unique understanding of markets, modelling and energy statistics to track and assess progress on technology deployment and performance, investment, policy, and innovation. It also draws on the IEA’s extensive global technology network, totalling 6,000 researchers across nearly 40 Technology Collaboration Programmes.
TCEP is part of the IEA’s broader efforts on tracking energy transitions and key indicators to help inform decision makers on where to focus innovation, investment and policy attention to achieve climate and sustainable development goals.
The last wave of renewable-energy venture investing focused on hardware. Today’s investments are largely in digital technologies, the author writes.
In April, for the first time in the U.S., renewables generated more electricity than coal, according to the Energy Information Administration. Now that renewable technologies like wind and solar are largely commoditized, investors and utilities are looking for ways to improve their margins, and they’re turning to startups in artificial intelligence to do it.
There is a current wave of investment underway in digital technologies that are making renewables the cheaper, cleaner, safer energy option. Venture firms, incumbents and private equity have raised more than $3 billion in new renewable energy-focused funds over the last three years.
Wood Mackenzie’s latest Energy Transition Outlook predicts the world will add 3,000 gigawatts of wind and solar over the next two decades, far more than new gas-fired capacity. Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts that nearly half of the world’s electricity will come from renewable energy by 2050 as costs of wind, solar and battery storage continue to plummet.
And these shifts are expected to occur in tandem as demand for electricity is expected to increase globally more than 50 percent over the next three decades.
One of the key drivers of this wave of investment is the emergence of digital technologies like AI — technologies that can take advantage of a proliferation of data to provide predictive analytics and real-time insights into asset operations.
Within the last five years, we’ve witnessed these technologies emerge in large numbers and scale to create an all-new class of technology that is increasingly being deployed by utilities and energy companies. Increasing business pressures from climate change, static electricity demand, and distributed resources are forcing utility companies — traditionally slow to adopt new technologies — to innovate rapidly.
Core technologies like wind and solar are demonstrably effective and reliable. What’s pushing them into the money — attracting new investment and allowing them to surpass coal — is these new digital technologies that improve margins for investors and asset owners, making the core technologies both more effective and better-performing for the bottom line.
Years ago, when clean energy wasn’t cost-competitive, these technologies wouldn’t have been viable investments. Incremental improvements to efficiency, power or margins are irrelevant if the core technology is too far out of the money. Today, wind is the lowest-cost new resource to build on the grid, with solar not far behind and gas competing on similar margins.
Fifteen years ago, we would have seen stark contrasts in the margins and return on renewables compared to their oil and gas counterparts. Not anymore.
“Less-risky” digital investments
The last wave of renewable energy venture investing a decade ago focused on hardware; today’s clean energy investments are largely in digital technologies because even marginal improvements to efficiency or output can help win contracts and deliver better returns.
Utilities and energy providers are using AI to make clean energy the lowest-cost energy option, increase its reliability and output, speed its deployment, and provide better service to their customers.
The proliferation of accelerators and venture funds dedicated to these types of digital clean energy innovations speaks to incumbent and investor interest. Across the country, accelerators like Clean Energy Trust, Greentown Labs, Plug and Play, and Elemental Excelerator connect startups with global energy household names. Organizations including Exelon, National Grid, Southern Company, Tokyo Gas, ExxonMobil work with the accelerators to identify advanced technologies that can help them speed up the deployment of reliable renewables, save money and make low-risk investments.
From an investment standpoint, one of the main benefits of these new digital technologies is their relative lack of risk.
Investing in hardware involves significant capital costs and long timeframes, which creates substantial risk. Digital technologies, on the whole, have both much better margins and much broader applicability across industries than hardware.
Companies like SparkCognition and DroneDeploy are great examples of this multi-sector relevance. SparkCognition uses AI to predict performance and failures of industrial equipment in industries including electric utilities, oil and gas, aviation and manufacturing. DroneDeploy uses computer vision and AI to analyze data and create maps and 3D models for applications ranging from mining and construction to agriculture and electric utilities. These companies are helping utilities either get more out of their renewable energy assets or deploy them faster, but also have successful track records in other industries.
AI is driving a resurgence in renewable energy investing and moving us inexorably away from fossil fuels. It is helping make renewables the default best energy choice, and enabling utilities to provide better service and cheaper prices to their customers.
AI is also making clean energy attractive for investors by offering great returns and significantly de-risking portfolios. It’s a great time to invest in digital technologies that are not only in high demand across industries but also helping us create a cleaner, more sustainable energy landscape.
The city’s biggest buildings would be forced to dramatically curb their carbon emissions by 2030 or face penalties under legislation heading for the mayor’s desk.
Buildings account for about 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption, according to the EIA.
New York City is on the verge of enacting one of the most ambitious citywide building energy efficiency laws in the country, aimed at getting its biggest buildings — including landmarks like the Empire State Building and Trump Tower — to shave their carbon emissions footprint by 40 percent by 2030 or face financial penalties.
Backers of the bill say it’s an important step to help meet New York state’s broader climate change goals, and could pave the way for similar efforts in cities across the country.
But opponents, including New York City real estate firms, say the bill could place overly costly and potentially impossible energy-reduction demands on the city’s biggest buildings, while exempting too many older and less-efficient buildings to be effective.
The law is part of a broader package called the Climate Mobilization Act, which was passed by a City Council committee on Thursday. Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign the legislation into law on Monday.
First in the country
The new energy efficiency requirements for buildings over 25,000 square feet are at the heart of this climate-reduction package, given these structures’ outsize role in the city’s energy consumption. Buildings of this size make up less than 2 percent of the city’s real estate, but account for roughly half of its energy use, and thus the city’s share of carbon emissions.
That’s made them a target of previous city building energy and carbon emissions efforts. New York City has already instituted building standards, known as the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, that include a series of efficiency and data-collection requirements for buildings of this size, including annual benchmarking of their electricity and water consumption, periodic energy audits and retro-commissioning, and a requirement to undergo lighting and sub-metering upgrades by 2025.
But the new law would be the first of any city in the country to set specific emissions limits on large buildings, coupled with financial penalties for failing to comply, imposed through the newly created Office of Building Energy Performance.
Property owners have complained that the bill’s exemptions — it excludes houses of worship, rent-regulated apartments and low-income housing, and other categories of buildings — will leave too much burden on the remaining building owners to cut energy usage.
But the bill’s backers say it’s an important first step toward tackling a massive challenge for any city or state seeking to reduce their carbon emissions from the built environment. Buildings make up about 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Retrofits, carbon trading on the table
New York state is engaged in its own “Green New Deal” push to reduce fossil fuel consumption and attain a zero-carbon energy mix by 2040, which will help the city’s biggest buildings meet their goals by reducing the carbon intensity of the electricity they use.
In the meantime, however, while most buildings don’t have much control over the carbon profile of the electricity they consume beyond installing solar panels or other clean generation, making them more efficient with the energy they do use will be a critical piece of any broader carbon-reduction scheme.
“Buildings will have to do deep energy retrofits, buy green power or eventually look at carbon trading,” John Mandyck, CEO of the Urban Green Council, a backer of the legislation, told Crain’s New York Business. “We get that it’s tough and that billions of dollars will need to be spent to reduce carbon emissions. But new technology and new business models will be invented to help buildings get there.”
Other bills that make up the Climate Mobilization Act package include a property-assessed clean energy financing program to help find renewable energy or building energy efficiency improvements.
It also includes a bill that would direct the city to study whether it could close 21 natural-gas-fired power plants within its borders and replace them with renewable energy and energy storage, and a bill to require certain buildings to cover their roofs in solar panels, small wind turbines or “green roof” gardens.
The first step in engineering a breakthrough starts with creating a prototype.
And, because advanced energy solutions today require sophisticated designs and geometries, researchers are increasingly turning to 3D printing to develop those early models. Even the most dexterous hands cannot match the intricate designs from these printers.
At ExxonMobil, technicians in the company’s advanced 3D printing laboratory are forming new acrylic, metal and ceramic spirals and other shapes that are instrumental in larger energy systems.
Nothing speaks to this cutting-edge process like 3D printing being used as a rapid prototyping tool for the development of cMIST™ technology. The cMIST system removes impurities like H2O, CO2 and H2S from natural gas production to achieve safety and gas quality standards.
Specifically, the cMIST system has a droplet generator which produces fine droplets of the solvent, well dispersed in the gas, allowing for more efficient processing. These droplet generators start their lives in the 3D printer (as seen below) as prototypes that get tested extensively for performance and reliability.
The 3D printing team was able to quickly roll out models of that cMIST droplet generator, allowing the design engineers to make swift optimizations.
This futuristic printing shop produced an intricate, sophisticated droplet generator. That small piece will be a key component to enable greater production of cleaner-burning natural gas in unconventional reservoirs and challenging offshore deepwater locations.
It sounds like the stuff of movies and sci-fi novels, but in a small pilot lab in Clinton, New Jersey, an elite group of ExxonMobil engineers is developing gasoline of the future. Creating fuel for cars that aren’t even on the market seems outrageous—impossible, even—but it’s happening now.
But how do these scientists know what to make? It’s because the brightest minds in science and engineering are also excellent problem solvers.
The challenge in this case is that by 2040 there will be 1.8 billion cars, light trucks and SUVs in the world, up from 1 billion now. Since a major focus for governmental entities and energy producers will be on reducing carbon-intensive output, ExxonMobil looked straight at the heart of the automobile and its source of power: the engine.
“Society expects higher fuel economy but still wants acceleration power,” says Nazeer Bhore, manager of lead generation and downstream breakthrough research at ExxonMobil.
Taking into account the desires of the consumer is largely what led Bhore and his team to their ah-hah idea: making fuels of the future for tomorrow’s advanced turbochargers.